Does sentinel presence improve foraging success? A study in a cooperative breeder

Roni Ostreiher, Roger Mundry, Aviad Heifetz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In various cooperative breeding species, a group member often sentinels from a prominent position that enables early detection of approaching predators, and then utters alarm calls to which the other group members react immediately. We tested in the cooperatively breeding Arabian babbler (Argya squamiceps), whether in the presence of a sentinel the other group members forage for longer or more effectively. In natural observations, in different distances from shelter and in different group sizes, we found no effect of sentinel presence on foraging time. Likewise, in a giving-up density (GUD) experiment with artificial food patches containing mealworms in each of 3 different distances from shelter, fewer mealworms were consumed further from shelter, but irrespective of whether a sentinel was present or not during foraging. While foragers react to a sentinel’s alarm calls when a predator approaches, our findings indicate that Arabian babbler foragers do not improve their foraging efficiency due to the sentinel’s presence. Combined with previous studies on the Arabian babbler, these findings reinforce the conclusion that in this species the sentinel is “selfish” and benefits from early detection of predators. These results contrast with those from other cooperative breeders in which sentinels utter calming calls and foraging efficiency increases when sentinels are present. We, therefore, suggest that similar sentinel behavior may serve different sentinel systems and functions in different cooperative breeders.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberarae050
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology. All rights reserved.


  • Arabian babbler
  • foraging
  • giving up density
  • sentinel behavior
  • sentinel system


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